MLSE and KickStart’s generational impact on TCHC tenants

Nearly 150 youth from the KickStart program gathered at BMO Field one weekend in May to watch Major League Soccer’s Toronto FC vs. FC Dallas game.

Five kids wearing TFC soccer jerseys running, jumping and smiling on BMO Field.

TCHC tenant youth in the KickStart program taking part in the halftime festivities at a Toronto FC soccer game.

It was an unusually warm and sunny Saturday evening in May as school buses unloaded TCHC youth at the gates of BMO Field. Nearly 150 invited kids arrived excitedly to watch Major League Soccer’s Toronto FC vs. FC Dallas.

This event is one of several opportunities provided to tenant youths who are a part of the KickStart program. KickStart is a soccer program for kids ages 6 to 14 that runs each year in the spring and summer. In partnership with MLSE Foundation, Toronto FC, and BMO, KickStart offers participants the chance to learn the basics of soccer and discover life skills through sport. Last year, more than 500 children from over a dozen TCHC communities participated in the program.

“I remember how much of a positive impact this program had on me growing up in my community,” said Asher Whelpley, a former tenant who is now a staff member with TCHC. “I made lifelong friends in my community and learned about teamwork, competition, and fair play.”

TCHC Program Coordinator, Tristan Sharma, is a current TCHC tenant and was involved with KickStart as a senior program leader many years ago.

“Free and accessible programs like KickStart really broaden the horizons of kids who live in social housing. They learn and experience things that they would not otherwise get the opportunity for,” said Tristan. “In fact, this program is still offering me new experiences through my role as a program coordinator.”

Two males standing on the pitch side at BMO Field.

Program Coordinator Tristan Sharma (Left) and Senior Program Leader Asher Whelpley (Right) pitch side at BMO Field.

MLSE Foundation and Toronto FC provided tickets, food and drinks for each child at the game, and invited Tristan and Asher to participate in the pre-game festivities.

Before the game, Asher was invited to speak in front of the sold-out stadium about his personal experience as a former KickStart participant. Tristan performed the official coin toss on the pitch to start the game alongside the team captains and game referees. Asher and Tristan were then escorted through the stadium and had a chance to watch the players warm up on the pitch – close enough to high-five them as they entered and left the field.

A woman interviewing a male on a soccer field. There is a videographer who is recording the interview.

Asher is interviewed before the game by the in-arena host.

“I think I’ve only been to one professional sporting event in my life prior to this, a Raptors game when I was 13 or 14 years old,” shared Asher. “So, to experience not only attending a game but also have the opportunity to participate in the ceremonies is going to leave a lasting memory for me.”

Indeed, KickStart is still impacting program alumni years after they have graduated.

“A big reason why I decided to work for TCHC in youth programming is so that I can give back to the kids,” said Tristan. “The program is still giving back to me.”

A group of men on the soccer field. A man wearing a Black shirt is conducting the coin toss.

Tristan flips the official game coin before the match begins.

During halftime, six kids were invited onto the pitch to participate in a fun soccer activity and each left with a brand-new Toronto FC soccer jersey.

The commitment shown by MLSE Foundation, Toronto FC, and BMO to the boys and girls of KickStart will leave a lasting impression for a new generation of kids growing up in TCHC communities.

“This is the just best day ever!” shouted one of the young girls, smiling, popcorn in hand, eyes fixed on the game.

A group of kids wearing red KickStart shirts are watching the soccer match at BMO field.

TCHC children cheer as Toronto FC wins 3-1 against FC Dallas at BMO Field.